I Feel the Turf Move
Inside one of the most interesting sports stadiums in North America
By Robert Danielson
I love everything about football, except really the game: the tailgating traditions, the food, the national anthem singer, cheerleaders, an occasional fight in the stands, cold draught beer, people-watching, the “wave.” I think you get it.
It was an August afternoon when my partner and I scored great 50-yard line tickets to the Cardinals pre-season game against the Oakland (or Las Vegas) Raiders. Using our Google maps GPS to get from north central Phoenix at rush hour on a weekday to Glendale was interesting. Our route took us through neighborhoods with speed bumps, behind school buses with flashing lights, and dozens of stop lights. Google maps delivered us into a sea of bumper-to-bumper traffic and a confusing maelstrom of variable message boards. Eventually, through our own compass-seeking faculties, we found a parking spot.
In the distance was State Farm Stadium, this gleaming oval microwave oven located acres across the grass. It was 115 degrees at 5 p.m. as we struggled through the hinges of hell toward the main gate. There were signs of earlier tailgating. But on this afternoon, I think most opted for the air-conditioned comfort of the stadium.
We claimed our seats and ushered in our first Cardinals game. The first quarter was especially dreary – not even a first down. But that gave us time to chat with the family of season ticket-holders behind us. I asked, “When do they open the retractable roof?” He said that doesn’t happen until much later in the season. Understood.
But then he pointed out that the natural grass turf retracts, as well as the roof. It turns out that State Farm Stadium is the only facility in the North America with both a retractable dome and turf! Who knew? (That honor will be shared with the new Raiders stadium in Las Vegas when it opens next year.)
So how does this work?
The entire field is housed in a tray (think of it like a huge cookie sheet) which is 40 inches deep, 234 feet wide and 403 feet long – 19 million pounds worth and 92,000 square feet. The tray includes turf, soil, irrigation and drainage systems.
Typically, the morning after each game, the turf is rolled out a giant garage door (four and a half feet high) in the southeast end zone on 546 wheels and 13 railroad-like tracks into the beautiful Arizona sun, where it rests and gets replenished until its next play date. It takes 70 minutes to travel the 740 feet journey to the great outdoors. That’s about 11 feet per minute – basically the same speed it took us to reach Glendale for the game.
The turf is Tifway 419 Hybrid Bermuda grass, a species used frequently on sports playing surfaces, including golf courses. It is designed to have the feel and spring of a natural grass surface. According to a facility spokesperson, “Athletes enjoy the natural grass playing surface and it regularly wins the ‘NFL’s Best Playing Surface’ award as voted on by the players.”
All said, when it comes to game day, the grass is always greener in Glendale.
More Desert Dirt
- Since its opening in 2006, the State Farm Stadium has won awards as the Best NFL Facility by Sports Business Journal and Sports Business Daily, NFL’s Best Playing Surface, Event Solutions Magazine’s Event Site of the Year, and Best New Venue of the 2000s by Sports Illustrated.
- The retractable roof is made of Bird-Air fabric and steel, and opens at an incline via 490-horsepower engines. The decision to open the roof is based on weather, temperature and the event organizer’s preference. There is a hotline number to call to see if the roof will be open: (623) 433-7663.
- The stadium is owned by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority (AZSTA), created by the state legislature as a municipal corporation tasked with promotion of tourism, amateur and youth sports and Cactus League Sports. Its funds are generated through rental car and hotel bed taxes.
- Following a public referendum, the $455 million stadium was funded by the AZSTA (61 percent), the Cardinals organization (31 percent), and the city of Glendale (3 percent).
- State Farm Stadium has hosted two Super Bowls (2008 and 2015), and will host Super Bowl lVII in 2023. It will also host the 49th Annual Fiesta Bowl at year’s end on Dec. 28, and the NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball Championships in 2024.
- You might consider State Farm Stadium as Arizona’s largest restaurant. Concessions are operated by Craft Culinary Concepts, one of the top-performing food and beverage operators in the NFL. A few of the standouts include the NFL’s first champagne bar, the Bubble Lounge, and a wine bar called the Flight Lounge, with wine on tap. Both of these are located on the Club Level. In addition, check out the Big Red Brew Haus with a typical Oktoberfest menu, or a number of specialty items at the food courts: 4th and Long, a 22 inch all beef Vienna hot dog ($24), or for the healthier-minded, “Touchdown Tossers,” protein boxes, wraps and pinwheels ranging from $10 to $15. Need I mention the Cardiac Cards Dog – a foot long beef hot dog wrapped in a seven-ounce burger patty, surrounded with bacon and topped with pico de gallo and melted cheese.
- For families, it is nice to know that there are three family sections on various levels, where no alcohol is allowed. There are family meal specials ranging from $7 to $11, family-accessible restrooms and nursing mother stations.
Robert Danielson is a 35-year career journalist, marketing and public relations expert. He joins us here at Phoenix Home and Garden Magazine as he explores the Valley as a newcomer to our region. Please welcome him by e-mailing him at RobertDigsIntoArizona@gmail.com